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By Compiled from wire service reports by Robert Kilborn / June 16, 2006



Hamas offered to resume the cease-fire with Israel that it broke off late last week – and to ask Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip to stop firing rockets at the Jewish state. But a spokesman said Thursday that Israel first had to stop all military operations in Gaza and the West Bank. Israeli leaders did not immediately comment on the initiative. The rockets – sometimes as many as 40 a day – are notoriously inaccurate and so far have caused relatively few casualties and light damage, but Israel has made a priority of efforts to prevent the launches.

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Iran is ready to sit in negotiations over the offer by UN powers of incentives to halt its nuclear activity, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday. He and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad discussed the matter at a conference on security in Asia. Ahmadinejad did not comment on the situation, but he appealed at the summit for Russia, China, and other attendees to combine their diplomatic clout as a counterweight to the US. Meanwhile, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said nuclear technology was more important to Iran than its oil industry, which represents 80 percent of its trade revenues.

Government warplanes bombed Tamil rebel strongholds in northern Sri Lanka Thursday in retaliation after 64 people were killed in an attack on a civilian bus. Many of the dead were children. At least 78 others were hurt when the vehicle hit two Claymore mines suspended from a tree over the road – a tactic used by the rebels to prevent the ground from absorbing most of the resulting explosion. President Mahinda Rajapakse toured the site and said his government remains committed to peace. But a spokesman later said, "We have to seriously consider the cease-fire [with the rebels] and possibly restructure it." The rebels denied responsibility for the attack.

Two people died and 24 others were wounded in the most coordinated violence in restive southern Thailand in months. Suspicion fell on Muslim separatists for 46 separate bombing attacks across three provinces, most of them as people were on their way to work. Caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said his government had intelligence reports indicating that "a major operation" was to take place Thursday but that security "wasn't good enough" to stop it. More than 1,300 people have been killed in the region in the past 2-1/2 years, despite efforts to quell the violence.

Human rights activists called the city of Oaxaca, Mexico, "a battlefield" after the latest incident in a three-week strike by teachers that has closed schools for more than 1 million pupils. Police and thousands of teachers clashed into the evening Wednesday, and witnesses said the former had used live ammunition as well as tear gas. Rumors that four strikers had been killed were denied by Oaxaca State authorities, who invited teachers' union leaders to a meeting Thursday to discuss ways to resolve the conflict. The teachers seek a pay increase that the state says it does not have the funds to provide. The strikers have vowed to disrupt voting in the state for the July 2 presidential election.

The rebels involved in weeks of violence that has racked East Timor could surrender their weapons as soon as Friday, their leader said. Alfredo Reinado told the Associated Press he was awaiting a written order to that effect from President Xanana Gusmao and pledged to obey it, once received. The rebels, most of them soldiers who were fired in March for going on strike, had demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri and threatened protracted guerrilla warfare. But earlier this week they said they now preferred a peaceful settlement of the conflict with the government.

Setting aside its earlier opposition to the independence of Montenegro, the government of Serbia formally recognized its ex-partner in what remained of Yugoslavia. Montenegran voters approved independence in a May 21 referendum, although by a narrow margin that was disputed by Serbian leaders. But the latter said Thursday that "conditions have been created" for the establishment of diplomatic ties. The republics have common cultural and religious traditions, and their stability is seen as vital for the Balkans, which has had four ethnic wars since the early 1990s.

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